Australia: Mandatory confession reporting laws come into effect

Priests in Victoria are no longer exempt from reporting abuse heard under the seal of confession (CNS/Chaz Muth)

Laws requiring clergy in Victoria to report child abuse to authorities – even if it is revealed under the seal of confession – will come into effect today. Source: The Age.

By Sumeyya Ilanbey, The Age

Clergy are required to report abuse heard in confession or face up to three years in prison.

“From [today], our promise to put the safety of children ahead of the secrecy of the confession is in full effect and there is no excuse for people who fail to report abuse,” said Attorney-General Jill Hennessy.

The Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 followed a recommendation in the 2017 final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse that mandatory reporting laws no longer provide an exemption for clergy, nor for sacramental confession.

The new laws also ensure the disclosures are not exempt under the Failure to Disclose Offence in the Crimes Act and allows survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the courts to have their unfair historical compensation payments overturned.

When the Victorian Parliament passed the bill in September, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was intended to send a message all the way to the top of the Catholic Church in Rome, while Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said the “special treatment” for churches had ended.

A spokeswoman for the Melbourne Archdiocese, Annie Carrett, said the Church “fully supported” mandatory reporting.

“There has been extensive training that has gone into all of our people … we are very mindful of children’s rights,” she said.

In an opinion piece published in The Age last year,  Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli said the legislation showed “a significant lack of understanding about the act of confession – particularly ignoring the anonymity of this sacrament, and the very real expectations of Catholic families that clergy will respect the strictest confidentiality of the seal of confession”.

“Unlike a patient’s relationship with their doctor or psychologist, or a student’s relationship with their teacher, the relationship within the sacrament is between the penitent and God, with the priest being merely a conduit. It is a religious act, of a deeply spiritual nature, in which the priest has no latitude to require a penitent to identify themselves.”


Mandatory reporting laws for religious institutions come into effect (The Age)

Violating sanctity of the confessional would be a betrayal of trust(The Age)

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7 Responses to Australia: Mandatory confession reporting laws come into effect

  1. This is not acceptable. The Priest has to obey God first and not men. He can dispense the penance that the abuser, while his sins are forgiven him, he should still turn himself in to the civil authorities to “take care” of his crimes on a civil level, i.e. against a law of the society..

  2. JabbaPapa says:

    The priests will not violate the secret of the confessional (else instantly cease to be Catholics), so that in real terms, the only effect of this law will be as yet another means for the increasingly anti-Catholic and anti-Christian Australian authorities to persecute and oppress the Catholic Church — including from false accusations that priests would not even be able to defend against without violating the seal of confession.

  3. Crow says:

    JabbaPappa is correct – the only purpose of the law (which was introduced with no evidence supporting its efficacy), is to allow crook compensation solicitors to coach their clients to attest that they confessed they were abused ‘on x date/at x address /by [name of priest/brother/teacher]’. Any Catholic knows that a genuine confession is not like a legal conference, with names and places identified for the obvious reason that the purpose of confession is the repentance of the penitent and the confession is between that penitent and God. However, as JabbaPappa points out, we are dealing with an anti-Catholic judiciary and media in Australia and they are more than willing to characterise the sexual abuse that persisted over that period as a Catholic matter, and never mention that it was a homosexual matter-over 86% of the abuse being homosexual. And, the deflection towards the problem perhaps serves another purpose (I would be interested in forensic investigations by any clever people): the Victorian police were criticised in the Royal Commission for their handling of abuse cases. They are appallingly corrupt and are currently subjected to a Royal Commission because they used information obtained in breach of privilege. Deflection of the problem towards the direction of the Catholic Church (and Cardinal Pell), serves a purpose of fostering the always- present anti-Catholic bigotry (which can be freely and virtuously given voice), together with a nice compensation industry AND no attention paid to the networks that must have existed to allow the paedophilia and abuse to prevail generally within our society. And it did prevail generally-the statistics of institutional abuse pale into insignificance in comparison to the general community. Even on a per capita basis regarding institutions, the rate of abuse was less than other religions (eg., the Uniting Church had higher abuse rates even though it was only created in 1977).
    The outcome will be that the fake claimants can claim confession and the crook compensation lawyers can sheet home actual knowledge to the Catholic Church.
    While it is unjust, nevertheless it has been enabled by the modernist accomodation to homosexuality that existed in the 60’s and 70’s, and it does highlight the vapid emasculation of doctrine that accompanied the application of Vatican II in that period.

  4. shadon100 says:

    What a ridiculous and malicious new law! Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see the impacts of this law:
    (i) as Crow says, a whole new legal angle that could even be abused by secretly recording confessions and drawing a priest into a situation of having the choice to perjure himself according to man´s law or to break the seal of confession according to Canon law in place since 1215 at least (all priests please perjure yourself if it comes to that!);
    (ii) greatly discourage the confession of serious sins in the first place – which can often be the vital first step on the road to repentence for the sinner.
    In short, no real good can come of this development in Australia for anyone following the Catholic faith.

  5. shadon100 says:

    I forgot to add that starting with the child abuse is the most obvious point to gain public support, but the next step would be the waiving of secrecy for any confession that relates to any criminal offence – time will tell…

  6. johnhenrycn says:

    All priests need do is state that they do not intend to obey the law. There is no law against stating an intention to disobey the law. Any priest who breaks the confessional seal is a deeply evil man.

  7. John Langa says:

    What will Catholics in Australia do in response…. oh nothing. For the rest, ask your local business to pull investments out of Victoria. Ask your government to rescind visa waiver status for Australians. Ask your governments to create sanctions targeting companies and officials of the Victorian government. State: NO MORE TOURISM to AUSTRALIA. You will not support the Australian government with your money. Let them feel the pain of making unjust laws which break the freedom of religion. But nah…. nothing will happen.

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